Friday, September 4, 2015

My thoughts on the Rabbanut

Lately a lot of opinion writers have asked why be need a chief Rabbi or government recognized Rabbanut in Israel. For example, earlier this week, Isi Leibler wrote in the Jerusalem Post that the State Endorsed Rabbinical Leadership should be disbanded.

(Full disclosure: I live in Modi'in,  and regularly attend shiurim from Chief Rabbi Lau, and a lot of my opinion is based on comments or observations I have heard from him)

One of the common misnomers is that the Rabbanut doesn't represent anybody, not the Charedim, not the secular, and not even the National Religious community.
This is simply not true. It is true that most Charedim do not respect the institution of the Chief Rabbanut, in much the same way they don't respect many Zionist institutions, however in the Religious Zionist world, there is a strong segment which not only respects the institution of the Chief Rabbanut, but regards it as a critical corner stone of Zionism and the redemptive process.
Rabbi Gil Student has an excellent article on the topic, here is a key quote:
Religious Zionists, particularly among the Chardal, see the Chief Rabbinate in messianic terms. We pray three times a day in the Amidah for the return of the centralized religious judicial system. The Chief Rabbinate is not the fulfillment of that prayer but its precursor. It represents a step in the flowering of the Redemption. Seen in those terms, undermining the Chief Rabbinate is forestalling Mashiach. 
In other words, while it is true that in Galut, each shtetle, community, or congregation appointed its own rabbi (although many cities and countries also had a Government-recognized Chief Rabbi), now that we are building a Jewish nation, just like we have a centralized, government-recognized Jewish army, police force, court system, education system, medical system, postal system etc, we should have a recognized Rabbanut. This was the vision of Rav Kook when he established the Rabbanut before the state.

None of these government institutions are perfect, many need restructuring or fixing, however there is a difference between fixing a poorly run government institution, and calling for it to be disbanded.

In addition to the ideological principle of having a single uniting rabbanut, there are practical advantages.

Having a centralized record of marriage and divorce is of enormous benefit. If you have ever met a Ba'al Tshuva from Chutz L'Aretz trying to determine whether he is Jewish according to Halacha you would understand why.
If the person comes from England, or any other country with a centralized Rabbanut, provided that their parents or grandparents had a Jewish wedding registered through the Rabbanut (and the vast majority of UK Jews do, even today), it is very easy to get a copy of the Ketuba and details of the Rabbi who conducted the wedding and verify their halachic status.
In contrast, with a Jews from the US, unless they know exactly where and when their grandparents got married, and the Rabbi or community where the grandparents got married is still around and maintains accurate records, it is extremely difficult, and some times even impossible to confirm their halachic status 2 generations later.

There are many other areas where we benefit from a government recognized and funded rabbanut.
In Chutz La'retz Jewish services such as burial, eruv, mikva, marriage registration, and beit din, if they exist at all are privately funded by a congregation, and often individuals who are not members of a congregation are denied these services; many Jews belong to a congregation just so they are entitled to a Jewsih Burial.

Here in the Jewish State almost every city has an eruv, every Jew is entitled to be buried according to Halacha, and there is a Beit Din or Possek available to everyone. Who would be responsible for maintaining these services if we did not have a recognized Beit Din.

With regard to marriage. Personally I am in favour of recognizing civil marriage, in the same way that the government recognizes civil marriage performed abroad. However if individuals want a Jewish wedding, not a civil wedding, weddings should be under the auspices of the Rabbanut and the Rabbanbut should maintain records. I believe that like in England, the vast majority of Israelis would prefer a Halachic wedding, and would want to be able to prove that their future children and grandchildren a Jewish without any question.

With regard to kashrut, there is also a benefit to the kosher consumer knowing that legally an institution can only call itself kosher if it meets a minimum recognized standard of kashrut.
There are big problems in the kashrut industry now, and different Rabbanuts do have different policies or levels of efficiency, and this should be standardized - but removing any level of control and letting anyone advertise themselves as kosher without any supervision at all, is a step in the wrong direction.

In recent years there were real problems with Charedim who did not recognize the Rabbanut taking over key positions, and that was to the detriment of the entire institution, however since Rabbi Lau took over, there has been a definite move to reform  the Batei Din, Kashrut supervsion, city eruvin, and other institutions under the umbrella of the Rabbanut.
May these changes continue, and may the office of the chief rabbanut return to the respected position that it deserves, and may the individuals involved be worthy of their office and turn the institution into a Kiddush Hashem.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Response from Mr McCully

Yesterday I received a response from the Right Honourable Mr McCully.

Nothing new or surprising in his response, he just repeats that instead of looking for new or creative approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (such as promoting peaceful interaction between Israelis and Palestinians), he will repeat the tried and failed method of meaningless gestures in the UN Security Council.

Given that there was zero chance that New Zealand would have advanced the cause of peace, the fact that he is only going through the motions and not attempting to come up with new or creative solutions to the issue can't further increase New Zealand's irrelevancy to the situation.

Anyway, in the interests of full disclosure, here is the full text of the letter from the right honourable minister:
6 JUL 2015
Michael Sedley

Dear Michael Sedley
Thank you for your email of 3 June 2015 regarding the current position of the New Zealand government in relation to the Israeli-Palestine conflict.
New Zealand pursues a balanced and constructive approach to the Israeli-Palestine conflict. New Zealand supports a negotiated two-state solution, with Israel and a Palestinian state existing side by side, in peace and security.
Given the threat the conflict poses to international peace and security, we believe the Security Council has a role to play in the Middle East Peace Process. We are assessing the best approach for its next steps, including the possibility of working on a United Nations Security Council resolution.
Yours sincerely

Han Murray McCully
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Welcome Mr McCully

As New Zealand gets ready to sit at the head of the head of the UN Security Council next month, Foreign Minister Murray McCully is visiting this part of the world.

Following is a letter that I sent to the Right Honourable Minister:

Hon Murray McCully,
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Dear Minister,

Haere mai, Bruchim Haba’im, and welcome to Israel

As a New Zealand citizen currently residing in Israel, I was initially pleased to read that the New Zealand Government is taking an active interest in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian authority.

However, according to media reports, instead of encouraging Israelis and Palestinians to work together towards living in peace, the New Zealand may back or even draft a UN resolution which will try to impose a solution from outside.

As a relatively new player to the Israel-Palestinian negotiations, New Zealand has the unique opportunity to propose or suggest new approaches, instead of rehashing proposals that have been repeatedly tried and failed over the past 20 years.

Since the Oslo Accords in 1993, all proposals have focused on borders, refugees, and security concerns. What has been overlooked is actual peaceful relations between citizens of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Although Chapter 4 of the Oslo Accords did discuss cooperation, including educating children towards peace, there has been almost no effort to enforce or encourage this. 
If you look at changes to the Palestinian textbooks since 1993, you would be hard-pressed to find any effort to encourage Palestinian children to live in peace with their Israeli neighbours.

In fact, as governments have spent 20 years discussing possible borders and security arrangements, personal peaceful interaction between Israelis and Palestinians has become more and more difficult. 
Tragically the negotiating process is actually discouraging normalization between Palestinians and Israelis. The result is that we have a whole generation of children on both sides of the conflict who have never met people on the other side, and have grown up in an environment of fear and violence.

In this environment, even if the representatives of both people could come to an agreement, or the UN or other world body could impose a solution, the chances that the agreement would lead to peace between people or a reduction in fear, hatred, and violence is almost zero.

If New Zealand wants to bring new ideas to the table, and really advance the cause of peace, could I suggest that instead of focusing on government-level negotiations or external proposals that are sure to fail, and may lead to another escalation in violence, maybe the New Zealand Government could use its influence to encourage interaction between individuals, particularly children.

Maybe the New Zealand Government could look for ways to encourage joint educational, cultural, sports, economic, or other interaction between Israeli and Palestinians. 
New Zealand is a sports-loving nation, and knows the impact that sports can have on a child’s development. If the New Zealand Government was to sponsor sporting events, concerts, or cultural events that bring Israeli and Palestinian children together in a peaceful, non-threatening environment, this would help to plant seeds of peace.
If the New Zealand government found a way to encourage joint economic ventures between Israelis and Palestinians, the entrepreneurs in these ventures would have a personal interest in maintaining peaceful relationship and free access between business partners on the other side of a future border.

These personal relationships would do more for the cause of peace than a discussion over which neighbourhoods in Jerusalem should be banned for Jews, or how many guns the Palestinian police force should be allowed, or who should control the border check-points in a future Palestinian state.

Thank you for your time,

Shalom and Haere rā

Michael Sedley